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9th Circuit says California fails to protect disabled inmates

October 04, 2013|By Maura Dolan

SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal appeals court rebuked California officials Friday for refusing to protect disabled parolees the state has shifted to county jails.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9thCircuit Court of Appeals said disabled inmates have been engaged in “a seemingly never-ending struggle” with state officials to obtain wheelchairs, sign-language interpreters, accessible beds and toilets, tapping canes for the blind and other accommodations.

California prison officials “have resisted complying with their obligations at every turn,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the panel.

To relieve prison overcrowding, the state has been transferring inmates to county jails. State parolees charged with violating the terms of their release now must await revocation hearings in county jails, instead of state prison, and serve sentences for parole violation in the jails. A federal disabilities rights law requires government to accommodate disabled prisoners.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration appealed a lower court order and argued that the state was not responsible for disabled parolees in the jails. The 9th Circuit panel disagreed, upholding an order that requires state prison officials to track disabled parolees and alert counties to their requirements.

By failing even to inform the counties of the inmates’ disabilities, the prisoners have been placed “into the vulnerable position of being dependent on other inmates to enable them to obtain basic services, such as meals, mail, showers, and toilets,”  the court said.

The court ordered the state to pay the costs of the attorneys representing the inmates.


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Twitter: @mauradolan

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